One of the four Blackwater security contractors that U.S. President Donald Trump pardoned in December 2020 said he “acted correctly” during the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Iraq, which left 14 civilians dead and 17 wounded, according to the Associated Press.
“I feel like I acted correctly,” contractor Evan Liberty said in an interview with the AP. “I regret any innocent loss of life, but I’m just confident in how I acted and I can basically feel peace with that.”
Liberty told the AP that he understood why many might see him undeserving of clemency but claimed those views were founded on a misguided narrative of the shooting.
In his first interview since being pardoned by President Trump in the 2007 shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians, a former Blackwater contractor tells the AP he believes he “acted correctly” and “didn’t shoot at anybody that wasn’t shooting at me.” https://t.co/teA0xjuYMC— The Associated Press (@AP) January 2, 2021
In the interview, he said that he did not fire in any of the victims’ direction. “I didn’t shoot at anybody that wasn’t shooting at me,” he insisted.
Liberty and the other three contractors — Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, and Dustin Heard — have long maintained that they were targeted by insurgent gunfire at the traffic circle where the shooting, dubbed the “Nisour Square massacre,” occurred.
U.S. prosecutors, according to the AP, contended that the contractors’ assertions lacked evidence, pointing out that multiple victims were killed while in their vehicles while they took shelter or as they tried to flee.
A federal jury in 2014 found the three contractors guilty for their alleged war crimes, the AP reported. The court charged Slatten with first-degree homicide, the most severe charge in a multi-count indictment. The other three were found guilty of several counts of voluntary manslaughter, attempted manslaughter, and firearm violations.
On Dec. 22, 2020, the White House announced that the convicts would have their sentences commuted, a move that drew intense condemnation from within the United States and overseas. (RELATED: U.N. Says President Trump’s Pardon Of Blackwater Contractors Convicted Of Killing Iraqis Violates International Law)
The Nisour Square massacre was the FBI’s most comprehensive and expensive criminal investigation since 9/11. Dozens of witnesses were brought to the United States to testify about what happened on September 16, 2007. https://t.co/68vqc1pe4V— The Intercept (@theintercept) January 1, 2021
“This decision was wrong, it was unfair,” said Faris Fadel, brother of Osama Abbas, a victim in the massacre. “How can you release those who have blood on their hands?” he protested.
The contractors had allegedly killed Abbas when he entered the square to make a money transfer, leaving his wife widowed and four children orphaned, the AP reported.
Liberty, whose 30-year sentence was halved last year, said he is uncertain how he came to be pardoned. He has not spoken with Trump, he told the AP.
The Blackwater firm, according to further reporting from AP, has backers with White House ties. The firm, whose name has since changed, was established by ex-Navy SEAL Erik Prince, a Trump ally and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Petitions from Trump’s key backers have “heavily influenced” his approach to pardons, the outlet further reported.
John Patarini, the lead FBI investigator into the massacre, wrote in a letter to the New York Times:
“We originally went to Iraq thinking this shooting was some form of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between Blackwater guards and insurgents. After only one week, we determined that this incident was not as presented by Blackwater personnel and their State Department lackeys, but it was a massacre along the lines of My Lai in Vietnam.”
“Having spent many hours with the innocent Iraqi victims who are permanently maimed and crippled because of the actions of these Blackwater guards, and the heartbroken family members of those killed, I am embarrassed for our country. I believe we will pay a heavy price in our relationships with other countries as a result of these pardons,” he added.